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Grad Slam puts students’ passion into focus

The fifth annual UC Grad Slam took place on Friday, May 10, at LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco. Students from all 10 campuses vied to win the systemwide trophy, “the Slammy,” and a share of $11,000 in prize money.

When experiencing Grad Slam as a spectator, it’s easy to be swept away in the excitement of it all. Students’ passion for their work is palpable, and the casual format of the event — all research distilled to three jargon-free minutes – provides an opportunity for students to speak about their work in relaxed terms, much as they might do for friends and parents back home. In humorous, informal interviews with President Napolitano, they open up about their lives outside UC, when the lab coats come off. The result is that the possibility of their work shines through, giving all of us a window into the researchers of tomorrow and the world they imagine building.

Watch the full Grad Slam broadcast.

Congratulations to this year’s Grad Slam winners!

First place: Katie Murphy, UC Davis. Murphy was the first UC Davis student to take the statewide Grad Slam championship. Her presentation, “Feeling sick: How corn makes its own medicine,” focused on how the biochemistry of corn may play a pivotal role in ensuring that the American food supply can keep up with future population demands. During a brief, pun-filled conversation with President Napolitano — in which she joked that she is often “out standing in her field,” Murphy explained her passion for corn, research and the impact of her work. (Shown at 54:13. Read more.)

Second Place: David Wu, UC San Francisco. In an aptly titled presentation, “A blood test to uncover concussion,” Wu explained the thinking behind his research that aims to develop a blood test that can determine whether someone has a concussion. This test would be extremely valuable for physicians and people with head injuries, as CAT scans and other current technologies aren’t sensitive enough to diagnose concussions quickly in the ER. Wu also shared his inspiration for pursuing a degree in biology (a girl he had a crush on) and recommended a cocktail for President Napolitano. (Shown at 1:17:37. Read more.)

Third place: Rachel Harbeitner, UC Santa Cruz. In her presentation, “Tiny carbon eaters of the deep seas,” Harbeitner detailed her research into deep-sea bacteria — which featured a giant robot. She explained that understanding this bacteria is key to understanding the role of the ocean in the carbon cycle, to better predict how oceans are responding to climate change to inform policies and regulations. She and President Napolitano talked about the art of tagging sharks in Mexico, why climate change matters and her dream dinner party companions. (Shown at 46:35. Read more.)

Audience choice winner: Anh Diep, UC Merced. Diep’s presentation, “To Clear or Not Clear: A Valley Fever Mystery,” focused on immune responses to Valley Fever — a disease that is quickly curable for some people, yet a painful, chronic condition for others. She shared her academic journey from linguistics to science research, as well as her ongoing passion for science communication. And, in conversation with President Napolitano, the self-proclaimed “nerd” confessed her affection for video games, fantasy novels and binge-watching Game of Thrones. (Shown at 1:01. Read more.)

Learn more about Grad Slam from the UC Newsroom.


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